Roundtable Talk: “FEAR.”

And I can’t take these feelings with me
So hopefully they disperse
Within fourteen tracks, carried out over wax
Wonderin’ if I’m livin’ through fear or livin’ through rap”

Artist: Kendrick Lamar

Song Meaning

Fear comes from home. Fear comes from the streets. Fear comes from within.

What good is fear?

This album just came out, and people are going bonkers over it. As usual, no one ever says why, they just give the king his crown, hop on the hype train and go see what Chance The Rapper is up to.

I haven’t fully dissected the whole album, so I can’t say where it stands in the grand scheme. But I did get to this one song, which should be an indication on what to expect.

This song’s complexities are as deep as fear itself. The track hits through different eras of Kendrick’s life – childhood, adolescence, adulthood – and explores how fear affected each of them.

Kendrick uses the first verse as a catalyst for his mother’s fear-of-God child rearing to his seven-year-old self. This was a dangerous way to raise a child because, though the lessons were to keep her son away from trouble in the ghetto, the repetitive “beat yo ass” threats bring back fearful memories.

In the second verse, a lethargic Kendrick raps through his 17-year-old self, predicting scenarios on how he could die on the streets – police brutality, gang violence, etc. In this era of his life, he was a victim of his surroundings and the threat of death always loomed around the corner.

The third verse restates some of his themes from To Pimp A Butterfly, which is success. He’s afraid of losing his wealth and is afraid of creating an unfair bias from the very people he represents. There are plenty of critics that do not get his music (Fox News), and you could definitely take this song out of context in parts. But when you bear the weight of an entire demographic, you have to hope that your message is conveyed in a way that shines a positive light on them.

Fear takes different forms throughout life. It can be as petty as a balloon that got a little too excited to fly or as dire as a cold .45 to the temple. But fear can be good for one thing: It lets you know when something is wrong.

Random Notes

  • If you listen to some of Kendrick Lamar without knowing the backstory of his music or his intention, it comes across as shallow and vulgar. Many times, however, he is trying to make a point. Don’t judge until you know the message.
  • That album art is a little creepy, though.
  • The Alchemist produced this track, as well as Kendrick Lamar’s “The Heart Part 4,” which is sampled in “FEAR..”
  • Piggybacking on last week’s wordplay, do you notice anything interesting about the final verse? It harbors several of DAMN.‘s track titles.

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